Posts Tagged ‘Private Healthcare Companies’

The Beeb’s Biased Reporting of NHS Privatisation

January 2, 2020

The Corporation’s General Right-wing Bias

The BBC is infamous for its flagrant right-wing bias. Writers and experts like Barry and Savile Kushner in their Who Needs the Cuts, academics at the media research centres of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Cardiff Universities, and ordinary left-wing bloggers like Mike and Zelo Street have pointed out time and again that the corporation massively prefers to have as commenters and guests on its show Conservative MPs and spokespeople for the financial sector on its news and political comment programmes, rather than Labour MPs and activists and trade unionists. The Corporation relentless pushed the anti-Semitism smears against Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party. But it has also promoted the privatisation of the NHS too through its biased reporting.

Biased Towards NHS Privatisation

Jacky Davis and Raymond Tallis’ book on the privatisation of the NHS, NHS – SOS, has a chapter by Oliver Huitson, ‘Hidden in Plain Sight’, discussing the biased reporting of the NHS’s privatisation by the media in general. Here, however, I will just confine myself to describing the Corporation’s role. The Beeb was frequently silent and did not report vital pieces of information about successive privatisations, such as the involvement of private healthcare companies in demanding them and conflicts of interest. On occasion, this bias was actually worse than right-wing rags like the Daily Mail. Although these ardently supported the NHS’ privatisation, they frequently reported these cases while the Beeb did not. When the moves towards privatisation were reported, they were often given a positive spin. For example, the establishment of the Community Care Groups, groups of doctors who are supposed to commission medical services from the private sector as well as from within the NHS, and which are legally allowed to raise money from the private sector, were positively described by the Corporation as ‘giving doctors more control’.

Lack of Coverage of Private Healthcare Companies Role in Privatisation

David Cameron and Andrew Lansley did not include Lansley’s Health and Social Care Bill in the Tories’ 2010 manifesto, because they didn’t believe they’d win the election if they did. But in all the two years of debate about the bill, the Beeb only twice reported doubts about the bill’s democratic mandate. (p.152). In October 2010, Mark Britnell was invited to join Cameron’s ‘kitchen cabinet’. Britnell had worked with the Labour government and was a former head of commissioning for the NHS. But he was also former head of health for the accountancy firm, KPMG, which profits greatly from government privatisation and outsourcing. He declared that the NHS would be shown ‘no mercy’ and would become a ‘state insurance provider, not a state deliverer’. But the BBC decided not to report all this until four days after others had broken the story. And when they did, it was only to explain a comment by Nick Clegg about how people are confused when they hear politicians stating how much they love the NHS while at the same time demanding its privatisation. (pp.153-4).

On 21 November 2011 Channel 4 News reported that they had obtained a document which showed clearly that GP commissioning was intended to create a market for private corporations to come in and take over NHS services. But This was only reported by the Groaniad and the Torygraph. The rest of the media, including the Beeb, ignored it. (pp. 156-7).

Lansley was also revealed to have received donations from Andrew Nash, chairman of Care UK, another private healthcare firm hoping to profit from NHS privatisation. But this also was not reported by the Corporation. (pp. 157-8).

In January 2011 the Mirror reported that the Tories had been given over £750,000 from donors with major connections to private healthcare  interests since David Cameron had become their chief in 2005. But this was also not mentioned by the Beeb. (pp. 158).

The Mirror also found that 40 members of the House of Lords had interests in NHS privatisation, while the Social Investigations blog suggested that it might be as high as 142. The BBC, along with several papers, did not mention this. (pp. 158-9).

Sonia Poulton, a writer for the Heil, stated on her blog that 31 Lords and 18 MPs have very lucrative interests in the health industry. But this was also ignored by the Beeb, along with the rest of the media with the exception of the Guardian. (p. 159).

The Tory MP, Nick de Bois, was a fervent support of the Tories’ NHS privatisation. He is a majority shareholder in Rapier Design Group, which purchased Hampton Medical Conferences, a number of whose clients were ‘partners’ in the National Association of Primary Care, another group lobbying the Tories for NHS privatisation. This was also not reported by the Beeb. (pp. 159-60).

The Beeb also chose not to report how Lord Carter of Coles, the chair of the Co-operation and Competition Panel charged with ensuring fair access to the NHS for private healthcare companies, was also receiving £799,000 per year as chairman of McKesson Information Solutions, part of the massive American McKesson healthcare company. (p. 160).

There were other links between politicos, think tanks, lobby groups and private healthcare companies. The health regulator, Monitor, is dominated by staff from McKinsey and KPMG. But this also isn’t mentioned by the press. (pp. 160-1).

Beeb Falsely Presents Pro-Privatisation Think Tanks as ‘Independent

The BBC, along with much of the rest of the media, have also been responsible for misrepresenting spokespeople for pro-privatisation lobby groups as disinterested experts, and the organisations for which they speak as just independent think tanks. This was how the Beeb described 2020health.org, whose chief executive, Julia Manning, was twice invited onto the air to discuss the NHS, and an entire article was given over to one of her wretched organisation’s reports. However, SpinWatch reported that its chairman, former Tory minister Tom Sackville, was also CEO of the International Federation of Health Plans, representing of 100 private health insurance companies. Its advisory council includes representatives of AstraZeneca, NM Rothschild, the National Pharmaceutical Association, Nuffield private hospital group, and the Independent Healthcare Advisory Services. (p. 162).

Another lobby group whose deputy director, Nick Seddon, and other employees were invited onto the Beeb to discuss the proposals was Reform. Seddon was head of communications at Circle, the first private healthcare company to take over an NHS hospital. Seddon’s replacement at Circle was Christina Lineen, a former aide to Andrew Lansley. None of this was reported by the Beeb. Their corporate partners included companies like Citigroup, KPMG, GlaxoSmithKline and Serco. Huitson states ‘Through Seddon’s and other Reform Staffs’ appearances, the BBC may have facilitated private sector lobbying on a publicly funded platform without making relevant interests known’. (163).

Beeb Did Not Cover Protests and Opposition to Bill

Pages 164-5 also discusses the Beeb’s refusal, with few exceptions, to interview critics of Lansley’s Health and Social Care Bill, the rightwing bias of panels discussing it and how the Beeb did not cover protests against it or its discussion in parliament. Huitson writes

At the BBC opportunities were frequently missed to provide expert opposition to the bill on a consistent basis. the RCGP’s Clare Gerada was largely the exception to this rule. Many of the most well-known and authoritative critics of the bill – the likes of professors Allyson Pollock or Colin Leys, doctors Jacky Davis and Wendy Savage from Keep Our NHS Public – never appeared on the BBC to discuss the plans. Davis recalls being invited to appear on the BBC a number of times but the item was cancelled on every occasion. ‘Balance’ is supposedly one of the BBC’s primary objectives yet appearing on the Today programme of 1 February 2012 to discuss the bill, for instance, were Shirley Williams (who voted in favour of the bill, however reluctantly), Nick Seddon of ‘independent’ Reform (pro-Bill), Steve Field (pro-Bill) and Chris Ham (pro-Bill). It’s difficult to see how that is not a breach of BBC guidelines and a disservice to the public. One of the fundamental duties of an open media is to ensure that coverage is not skewed towards those with the deepest pockets. And on that issue the media often performed poorly.

Further criticism of the BBC stems from its curious lack of NHS coverage during the climactic final month before the bill was passed in the House of Lords on 19 March. One such complaint came from blogger and Oxford Professor of Developmental Neuropsychology Dorothy Bishop, who wrote to the BBC to ask why it had failed to cover a number of NHS stories in March, including an anti-bill petition that had been brought to the House by Lord Owen, carrying 486,000 signatures of support. In reply, the BBC confirmed that the bill had been mentioned on the Today programme in March prior to the bill’s passing, though just once. Bishop replied:’So, if I have understood this right, during March, the Today programme covered the story once, in an early two-minute slot, before the bill was passed. Other items that morning included four minutes on a French theme park based on Napoleon, six minutes on international bagpipe day and eight minutes on Jubilee celebrations.’

Other BBC omissions include Andrew Lansley being heckled by angry medical staff at a hospital in Hampstead, as reported by both the Mail and Sky News. On 17 March a peaceful anti-bill march took place in central London. Those out protesting for their national health service found themselves kettled by riot police despite being one of the most harmless-looking crowds you’re ever likely to see. The protest and the shameful police response were completely ignored by the media, except for a brief mention on a Guardian blog. On social media numerous examples have been reported of protests and actions opposing the bill that were entirely absent from national coverage.

Then, on 19 March, the day of the final vote on the bill, the BBC ran not a single article on the event, despite this being one of the most bitterly opposed pieces of legislation in recent history – it was as if the vote was not taking place. The next day, with the bill passed, they ran a full seven articles on the story. Three days after the bill passed, Radio 4 broadcast The Report: ‘Simon Cox asks: why is NHS reform mired in controversy?’ Why this was not broadcast before the Lords’ vote is a mystery. 

When the Bill was passed, the bill scrolling across the BBC News’ screen ran ‘Bill which gives power to GPs passes’. (166). Huitson remarks that when the Beeb and the other news networks reported that the Bill gave power to GPs and allowed a greater role for the private sector, it was little more than regurgitating government press releases. (p. 168).

Beeb Bias Problem Due to Corporation’s Importance and Domination of Broadcast News

Huitson also comments on the specific failure of the Beeb to provide adequate coverage of NHS privatisation in its role as one of the great British public institutions, the dominant role it has in British news reporting. On pages 169-70 he writes

Campaigners may not expect more from the Sun but they certainly do from the BBC, given its status as an impartial public service broadcaster whose news gathering is supported directly by licence fee payers. The BBC accounts for 70 per cent of news consumption on television. Further, the BBC accounts for 40 per cent of online news read by the public, three times that of its closes competitor, the Mail. Quite simply, the BBC dominates UK news. The weight given to the BBC here is not purely down to its dominance, however, but also because, along with the NHS, the BBC remains one of our great public institutions, an entity that is supposedly above commercial pressures. Many of the stories ignored by the BBC were covered by the for-profit, right-wing press, as well as the Guardian and Channel 4, so the concern is not that the organisation failed to ‘campaign’ for the NHS, but that it failed to report facts that other outlets found newsworthy.

The BBC’#s archive of TV and radio coverage is neither available for the public to research nor technically practical to research, but there are a number of reasons for confidence that their online content is highly indicative of their broader output. First, BBC online is a fully integrated part of the main newsroom rather than a separate operation. Consequently, TV and radio coverage that can be examined is largely indistinguishable from the related online content, as demonstrated in the examples given above. During the debate of Lansley’s bill, the BBC TV and radio were both subject to multiple complaints, the figures for which the BBC has declined to release.

Beeb’s Reporting of NHS Privatisation as Biased as Coverage of Miners’ Strike

He also compares the Beeb’s coverage of the bill, along with that of the rest of the media, to its similarly biased reporting of the miners’ strike.

The overall media coverage of the health bill brings to mind a quote from BBC radio correspondent Nicholas Jones, on the BBC’s coverage of the miners’ strike: ‘stories that gave prominence to the position of the National Union of Miners could simply be omitted, shortened or submerged into another report.’ (pp. 172-3).

Conclusion

The Beeb does produce some excellent programmes. I really enjoyed last night’s Dr. Who, for example. But the right-wing bias of its news reporting is now so extreme that in many cases it is fair to say that it is now a propaganda outlet for the Tory party and big business. It’s utterly indefensible, and in my view it will only be reformed if and when the newsroom and its managers are sacked in its entirety. In the meantime, Boris and the rest of the Tories are clamouring for its privatisation. Godfrey Bloom, one of the more prominent Kippers, has also put up a post or two in the past couple of days demanding precisely that.

If the Beeb was genuinely impartial, it would have defenders on the Left. But it is rapidly losing them thanks to its bias. And to the Tories, that’s also going to be a plus.

Thanks to the Beeb’s own Tory bias, it’s going to find it very hard to combat their privatisation.

And in the meantime they will have helped destroy the most valued of British institutions, the NHS, and free, universal healthcare to Britain’s citizens.

Privatisation Has Increased NHS Expenditure, Not Reduced It

January 1, 2020

I found this little statistic about the increase in NHS expenditure due to Thatcher’s NHS reforms, including privatisation, in Daniel Drache’s and Terry Sullivan’s Health Reform: Public Success, Private Failure:

Offsetting the quantitative picture of change presented thus far are data on expenditures. Privatisation has accompanied not a decrease but an increase in NHS spending to well over 6 per cent of GDP, and yet efficiencies and improvements have occurred in the public sector. (p. 130).

It’s not hard to see why. Private healthcare is much more inefficient compared to state provision. About ten per cent of the expenditure in private health companies is on management costs. This is usually ten per cent, but can rise in some firms to 40. And some of this is because, apart from paying the medical professionals, who actually do the work, these firms must also provide a profit for their shareholders.

The continuing privatisation of the NHS set in motion by Thatcher isn’t making the NHS more efficient. It’s making it less so, for the profit of the private healthcare companies like BUPA, Circle, Virgin Health all trying to cash in on it.

If we want to create a genuinely efficient NHS that provides universal healthcare free at the point of use, it has to be renationalised. And that means a left-wing Labour government.

So for everyone’s health, kick out Boris and the Tories!

 

Tories Going Ahead with NHS Privatisation

December 31, 2019

Here’s another broken promise from Bozo the Clown Prime Minister – but it’s one everyone on the left knew very well was going to happen. Johnson’s going full ahead with the Tory privatisation of the NHS, despite Tory claims that we still have a publicly-owned healthcare system that’s supposed to provide care free at the point of use.

Mike reported a few days ago that Johnson’s government has drawn up a new framework for the NHS, the NHS Shared Business Services in which hospital trusts will buy services from a list of private companies. The services put out for tender include cardiology, gynaecology, paediatrics and oncology. That means it also covers children’s medicine and cancer care. The report Mike cites, at MirrorOnline, says it could mean services worth £117 million being contracted out over four years.

As Mike points out, we don’t have a system of universal healthcare anymore, as the private firms that supply the NHS with some services don’t cover the whole country. He also states clearly that it isn’t free at the point of use, as Tory policy is intended to make patients, who aren’t able to get proper NHS funded care are supposed to go private. Meanwhile, other NHS services are being starved of cash for the government to fund the private healthcare companies they’ve allowed into the NHS.

See:  https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/12/29/when-is-a-public-health-service-not-a-public-health-service-when-its-run-by-tories/

The Tory claim that this is private expertise making the NHS more efficient is a lie. Private healthcare is actually less efficient. It does not adequately cover – if at all – the poor and those with long-term health problems. Private hospitals are typically smaller than NHS hospitals. They’re also far more bureaucratic. About 10 per cent of private healthcare costs are management, though this can rise to 40 per cent. In America, something like 20 per cent of the American public can no longer afford their private health insurance. 40,000 people die every year because they can’t afford medical care. In Virginia, people actually sleep out in their cars for the weekend when the dentists offer their services free.

This is what will come to Britain if the Tories and Johnson have their way and run down the NHS completely. They do want it to become a second class service for the poor, who cannot afford private medicine. Or else introduce the American system, where everyone is supposed to go private, but there is medicare and medicaid to provide some limited care for the poor and elderly. Or else people can seek treatment at the local hospital’s Emergency Room.

Don’t believe the Tories’ lies – they are privatising the NHS purely for corporate profit. And Britain’s people will suffer.

Private Medicine and the Demand for the Privatisation of State Medical Care

December 17, 2019

The book Health Reform: Public Success – Private Failure also makes it clear where the demands for NHS and the privatisation of other systems of state healthcare come from: the private medical sector, including the insurance industry. The book states

Arguments for private markets in health care are not only persistent, and resistant to both analysis and evidence, but they also come forward from the same groups of people. Again over the decades, and across countries, one finds the same arguments for private organization and funding coming from spokesmen for private practitioners’ associations – physicians, dentists, pharmacists – as well as from private insurance companies and drug manufacturers. In addition they tend to come, as noted above, from representatives of ‘business’ and, more recently, from ‘ideological entrepreneurs’ that support themselves and their organisations by championing the interests of the wealthy, cheerleading for the private marketplace. Indeed, they are simply taking advantage of the general ideological climate, currently more favourable to re-open old issues. (p. 28).

‘Ideological entrepreneurs’ seems to be another term for right-wing thinktanks and astroturf pressure groups.

The book states that in contrast with hospital workers, who want to see cheap or free medical treatment provided to the poorest, the private sector is interested in maximising its income.

Hospital workers, whose patients/clients tend to be very ill and/or have very limited resources – the unhealthy and unwealthy – are generally very supportive of public payment systems. Their opportunities in a private marketplace would be quite limited. But they do not support hospital ‘downsizing’ or containment more generally; the ideal policy would be more money from public sources, to hire more highly trained and better paid staff….

The loud voices for privatisation, by contrast, come from those who believe that they could do better, in the form of increased sales of or higher prices for their products and services, in a more entrepreneurial environment. It is not clear how many, if any, of these would support a truly private system, with no direct or indirect contribution of public funds. The economic mayhem among providers would be truly awesome. Instead what seems to be contemplated is a continuation of public support on a large scale, but without limits on private fee setting or delivery, or private insurance – rather like the United States, in fact, before more widespread ‘managed care’. 

This sounds very much like the thinking behind the privatisation of NHS services – private healthcare providers supported by the state – and Trump’s intention to open up the NHS to American private healthcare firms and remove the NHS’ price fixing mechanism keeping drug prices as low as possible.

NHS privatisation is all about private profit, not public care or the provision of health services at minimal cost. Don’t fall for the rhetoric of the Tories or Blairites in Labour. Get rid of it, and them.

My Video ‘Vote Labour to Defend the NHS’

December 12, 2019

This is a video I put up on YouTube two years ago urging people to vote for the Labour party and Jeremy Corbyn to save the NHS from Tory privatisation. I really that many of the people reading this blog will have seen it already. But if you haven’t, please and do and share. Because the NHS really is being privatised, as it has been for forty years ever since Maggie Thatcher got into power in 1979. And despite the lies, Boris Johnson is determined to privatise it. He made a speech in 2002 calling for its abolition in favour of private healthcare companies. Two years ago in 2017 he, Liam Fox and Daniel Hannam, formed the Institute for Free Trade, which supported opening up the running of NHS hospitals to American private healthcare firms.

Whatever its faults, the NHS has served this country far better than private healthcare and the abysmal system that existed before its establishment in 1948. Don’t let the Tories destroy it.

Vote Labour!

 

 

Get Out and Vote Labour for a Better Britain

December 12, 2019

As I’m sure I don’t need to tell anyone, it’s the election today so get out and vote, and vote Labour! This is the opportunity we want to end a decade of Tory austerity and forty years of Thatcherism. During that period vital public services have been privatised, including parts of the NHS. The welfare state is also being destroyed and undermined. 130,000 people at least have died because of austerity. Travel by rail, and electricity and water would all be cheaper if they hadn’t been privatised, and prices needlessly inflated in order to give a dividend to shareholder and exorbitant pay and bonuses to directors. A quarter of a million people, including those in work, now have to rely on food banks to feed themselves thanks to wage freezes and the introduction of zero hours contracts. Employees are being put on ‘self-employed’ contracts so that their bosses don’t have to pay them sick and maternity pay, or give them holidays. And Tory privatisation means that hospital waiting times are getting long and conditions worse in order to prepare for the complete handover of the NHS to private healthcare companies.

We can stop this all today by voting Labour.

Do it!

Rapper Professor Green on Why the Tories Aren’t Getting his Vote

December 11, 2019

Mike put up this meme on his post about ordinary people’s reactions to BoJob’s comments on Sunday. It’s a quotation from the rapper Professor Green, and it succinctly states what the Tories have done for the ordinary people of this great country: zilch.

Absolutely. They’ve done nothing at all for the ordinary working man and woman, except push them further into poverty and despair. And their policy of austerity is responsible for the deaths of a minimum of 130,000 disabled and unemployed people. Professor Green was widely praised for one of his songs about mental illness as it affects men. There’s a real crisis here, as mental illness hasn’t received the attention it requires. And men especially try to repress their emotions when suffering from depression and try to carry on even they’re unable to cope. The Tories have made a great show of supporting the mentally ill, promising more funding and medical resources. But mental health is still critically underfunded and the provision of resources inadequate. And I don’t see that situation getting better under the Tories, no matter what lies Johnson makes about improving the NHS.

The Tories will continue cutting the NHS and privatising it, opening it up to American private healthcare companies just as Johnson, Fox and Hannam demanded last year when they set up the Institute for Free Trade in 2017. And so long as they are in power, people will be, as Professor Green says, ‘disengaged, disaffected, angry, upset, unhappy and hopeless’.

Which is why the Tories and their collaborators in the media hate Corbyn. He’s given people hope – genuine hope for change that can only come from the election of a properly socialist Labour party and the scrapping of Thatcher’s legacy of neoliberal economics, poverty and despair.

So please vote Labour tomorrow. 

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/12/08/see-the-way-people-stop-supporting-boris-johnson-when-they-realise-what-hes-like/

 

Pride’s Purge: Boris Set Up Group to Sell NHS to Americans after Brexit

December 11, 2019

Credit and kudos for this story to Tom Pride. A few days ago I put up a piece about a speech Johnson made in 2003 demanding the end of the ‘monolithic, monopolistic’ NHS for the benefit of private healthcare and health insurance companies. This was dug up by left-wing bloggers to refute Johnson’s lies that he has no intention of selling it off to the Americans, or otherwise privatising it. Despite the fact that’s exactly what he and the rest of the Tory party have been doing and intending to do for over forty years ever since Thatcher came to power.

Trump very clearly stated that he wanted the NHS to be ‘on the table’, despite Johnson’s denials. And Johnson was very definitely in negotiations with the Americans, although these were kept secret. And last Tuesday, Pride’s Purge put up a piece revealing that in 2017, Johnson and his Tory colleagues Liam Fox and Daniel Hannan, the Tory MEP for Devon, set up the Institute for Free Trade. They wanted to allow the Americans to compete with the NHS to run British hospitals after Brexit, as well as ending the ban on American chlorine-injected chickens and accept American environmental and food safety regulations.

The Purge concludes

Don’t let our hat-doffing compliant press let Johnson get away with his lies about not planning to sell off the NHS to US private companies after Brexit.

Go here to see the original article, plus shots of pages from The Times and elsewhere reporting this: https://tompride.wordpress.com/2019/12/03/in-2017-boris-johnson-launched-group-proposing-nhs-sell-off-to-us-firms-after-brexit/

Before You Vote Tory, Think: Can You Afford £50 for Medicine? Or £50,000 for an Operation

December 4, 2019

Corbyn’s factual statement that the Tories are considering selling off the NHS to the Americans clearly has got both them and Trump rattled. The Sun’s headline today followed in that wretched rag’s long, ignoble tradition of deceit. It denied furiously that the NHS was for sale, and that Trumped had definitively refuted it. In fact it shouted that he had ‘thumped’ Corbyn ‘the chump’. In fact he hadn’t. Zelo Street has produced a devastating refutation of its own, which demolishes the Scum’s lies. It quotes Trump and his wretched UK ambassador, Woody Johnson, who both side that they wanted the NHS on the table. As well as a report from Sky, which also said they did.

The piece concludes

‘Tory cheerleaders can stamp their feet and cat-call all they want. Trump has already said that the NHS would be on the table in future trade talks. No amount of propagandist knocking copy can change that. Nor can it make Bozo The Clown a competent PM.

The Murdoch mafiosi is now beyond desperate. But you knew that anyway.’

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/12/bozo-and-trump-nhs-denial-busted.html

The Scum would lie about this, as recent biographies of Murdoch have shown that he, as well as the Tories and Trump, want the NHS privatised.

To anyone considering voting Tory anyway, I strongly advise you to think. I’ve friends, who have trained in medicine. And they told me the real price of what some services we so far get free or at least cheap, would cost if we had to pay for them if the NHS was privatised. Some prescription cough medicines actually cost as much as £50, or so I’ve heard. And an operation can cost £30-50,000. These are the kinds of prices you would expect to pay if the Tories, Trump and Murdoch have their way and privatise the NHS, following long-term plans that started with Thatcher.

The leading cause of bankruptcy in America is medical debt. About 40,000 people die every year because they cannot afford proper treatment. In Virginia, people wait overnight in their cars for that one weekend every month when dental treatment is available free. And in some areas people are so poor that they are forced to hoard medicine or get animal medicines from the vets’.

This is what you would get here, if the Tories, Trump, and their backers in private medicine, private equity firms and hedge funds get their way.

We cannot let that happen.

Vote Corbyn to keep the NHS nationalised and free from charges.

 

‘I’ Newspaper: Tories Selling Off Mental Health care to Americans

December 3, 2019

And it’s a disaster.

This is another story from yesterday’s I, this time written by Ian Birrell. It’s titled ‘NHYS for sale? Our mental health services are’ with the subtitle ‘Fatcat US operators already have their claws into our psychiatric services’. It’s a comprehensive discussion how big American private medical companies are acquiring British healthcare companies and NHS contracts, and how patients are suffering through the deplorably bad care they provide.

Birrell begins with Jeremy Corbyn’s statement last week that the documents of the negotiations between Trump and Johnson showed that the NHS were being sold off to private American companies. Birrell denied this, and instead stated that not even Boris would dare sell off the NHS went it is so highly valued by the British public. He then moved on to the strenuous denials by the Tories that they were planning any such thing, before attacking them in turn as lies when it came to mental health. He wrote

Yet hang on a second. One key slice of the NHS is already lying in a distressed state on the operating table, where it has been chopped up for profit-hungry private firms. And giant US health corporations, along with hedge funds and private equity firms, are already here and bleeding dry this profitable of the corner of the NHS – with often disastrous consequences for some of our most desperate patients. Sadly, no one seems to care much since it is “only” the mental health sector – for so long the neglected Cinderella service.

Yet in recent years a small cluster of fatcats have got their claws into Britain’s psychiatric services, exploiting the struggles of the health service to cope with surging demand. These operators have grabbed nearly £2bn of business, providing almost one quarter of NHS mental health beds and soaking up close to half the total spend on child and adolescent mental health services.

This means they own many NHS-funded units holding people, such as teenage girls who self-harm and adults with suicidal thoughts, along with hundreds of people with autism and learning disabilities scandalously locked up due to lack of support in their local communities. These firms benefit as overloaded mental health services and risk-averse officials send more and more troubled citizens into secure units. It is a lucrative business when it costs up to £730,000 per patient a year. Bosses can pocket millions – but many frontline workers earn little more than minimum wage and the use of agency staff is routine, despite the need to develop patient relationships.

Acadia, a Tennessee-based health giant, spent £1.3bn buying the Priory Group and now boasts of earning more than £188m in just three months from British public services. “Demand for independent-sector beds has grown significantly as a result of the NHS reducing its bed capacity and increasing hospitalisation rates,” said its last annual report.

Operating profits at Cygnet, owned by another huge US firm, have surged to £45.2m due to deals with 228 NHS purchasing bodies after it bought a rival group last year. Another outfit called Elysium, backed by private equity through a Luxembourg firm, only launched three years ago, but is already earning revenues of £62.2m from at least 55 units.

But a study by the Rightful Lives campaign group has found these three firms alone own 13 of the 16 mental health settings judged “inadequate” by the Care Quality Commission watchdog, since it found some teeth after the furore over abusive detention of people with autism and learning disabilities exploded a year ago. Cygnet runs eight of these “inadequate” units, although its US boss is reportedly the richest chief executive in the hospital industry, who collected more than £39m in one year from pay, bonuses and stock. Priory and Cygnet also owned hospitals exposed by disturbing undercover television documentaries over the past year.

I have heard a stream of horror stories from despairing families and former patients involving solitary confinement, forcible injections, abuse and overuse of restraint, during investigations into this area. Some were detained in NHS psychiatric units. But most involve privately run units. People such as Megan, who was sectioned for self-harm, suicidal thoughts and later found to be suffering post-traumatic stress from childhood traumas. She was in four clinics – but in one run by the Priory, aged just 16, she was even held stark naked for one month to prevent self-harm until her parents delivered a “safe suit”. “It was the most degrading time of my life,” she told me. The firm was fined £300,000 earlier this year for failings after the suicide of a 14-year-old girl at the same unit.

Despite the ample demonstration that private healthcare doesn’t work and is just simple profiteering, Birrell is at pains to say that he has nothing against the involvement of the private sector in state healthcare. He just wants it to be better regulated. He ends his piece with these two paragraphs

Unlike many voters, I have no problems with private providers in healthcare if the service remains free at the point of use, especially after seeing their role in European systems with superior patient outcomes to our own health service. But seeing these mental-health firms has shaken my faith.

Clearly all private operators need to be effectively regulated, especially when providing sensitive frontline services. Sadly, it seems our politicians on all sides prefer to posture over whether the NHS is really for sale to “mega-corporations” while ignoring those that have already arrived and are pocketing vast sums while offering inadequate services to so many despairing citizens. Once again, we see how little Westminster really cares.

Actually, I think these paragraphs say much about the I and the political ‘centrism’ it supports. The NHS has been privatised piecemeal since the days of Thatcher, who was prevented from privatising it outright by a cabinet revolt. Blair’s government did much to hand it over to private firms, though much had already been done in this direction by the Private Finance Initiative introduced by the Tories and Peter Lilley. The Conservatives haven’t reversed the policy of privatisation, and are instead ramping it up even further.

The result is massively poor performance. Jacky Davis and Ray Tallis argue very strongly in their book on the privatisation of the NHS, NHS-SOS, that on their own private healthcare can’t compete with state. The service provided will always be inferior, as the profit-motive doesn’t work when it comes to the long-term sick or those with acute conditions. Private hospitals have fewer beds than state hospitals. And those who cannot afford healthcare are simply left to sicken and die. A few years ago the private healthcare system in America nearly collapsed. It’s why the American healthcare giants are so keen to acquire pieces of ours.

Yes, continental healthcare which often does involve the private sector can perform better than ours. But that’s because our National Health Service has always received comparatively less funding than theirs. It’s been the case, sadly, since the NHS was set up. On the other hand, our healthcare results are far, far better than Americas and were comparable to those on the continent. Until the Tories took over, and decided to cut things back and privatise even more.

But Birrell cannot criticise private medicine, because privatisation is still part of ‘Centrist’ political dogma. Moreover, the press is now owned by immensely rich men, often with commercial interests in other sectors of the economy. As a result, the supposedly liberal I and Guardian continue to flog Centrist economics even though these are so well-past their sale-by date that they’ve been dubbed ‘zombie economics’.

As for Corbyn, I believe very strong that rather than playing political football with the issue of NHS privatisation, he’s very aware of what’s going on and how it is failing Britain’s sick and ill. That’s why he wants to end it and renationalise the NHS. Birrell tries desperately to avoid that conclusion, because like all Centrists he wants the NHS privatisation to continue thanks to the Thatcherite dogma he’s imbibed and promotes.

But Thatcherism has had its day. It is bringing nothing but misery, deprivation and death. It’s time the Tories were out, Jeremy Corbyn was in, and the NHS renationalised. 

Now!